Document 92599

Mem. S.A.It. Vol. 00, 199
c SAIt 2008
The Milky Way spiral arm pattern
3D distribution of molecular gas
P. Englmaier1 , M. Pohl2 , and N. Bissantz3
Institut für Theoretische Physik, Universität Zürich, Zürich, Switzerland
Department of Physics and Astronomy, Iowa State University, Ames, IA, USA
Fakultät für Mathematik, Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Bochum, Germany
Abstract. A complete map of the 3D distribution of molecular (CO) gas was constructed
using a realistic dynamical model of the gas flow in the barred potential of the Milky Way.
The map shows two prominent spiral arms starting at the bar ends connecting smoothly to
the 4-armed spiral pattern observed in the atomic hydrogen gas in the outer Galaxy. Unlike
previous attempts, our new map uncovers the gas distribution in the bar region of the Galaxy
and the far side of the disk. For the first time, we can follow spiral arms in gas as they pass
behind the galactic centre.
Key words. Galaxy: centre – Galaxy: kinematics and dynamics – Galaxy: structure – galaxies: spiral – hydrodynamics – ISM: kinematics and dynamics
1. Introduction
Half a century ago, Oort (1959) used the
Leiden/Sydney 21-cm line survey to construct
a map of the neutral atomic hydrogen gas distribution for the Milky Way (Fig. 1). This map,
the first large scale map of the Milky Way’s
gas distribution - mostly located in spiral arms,
was disturbed by distance errors and excluded
the inner part of the Galaxy as well as the region beyond. The apparent expansion of the
Galactic centre region was speculated to be due
to a bar, and this view has been generally accepted in the last decade. The method used by
Oort, however, assumed circular rotation of the
gas, since distance information was not known,
and therefore was not applicable in the innerSend offprint requests to: P. Englmaier;
e-mail: Peter[email protected]
most ∼ 5 kpc’s of the Galaxy. The map showed
spiral arms, but also many fingers pointing towards earth (the ‘Finger-of-God’ effect), and
the pattern was incomplete in direction of the
centre and anti-centre. There was also an apparent difference between spiral arms on the
left and right side of the Galaxy; not a single
spiral pattern could fit the observations.
Since then, many studies have attempted
to chart the spiral arm pattern of the Milky
Way in several tracers, but often assuming circular rotation laws for translating radial velocity into distance. Some tracers follow a 4armed spiral pattern, while others only follow
2 arms (see Vallée 1995 for a review). The
perhaps most successful attempt to chart spiral
arms, was achieved by Georgelin & Georgelin
(1976), who used HII regions and also a cir-
Englmaier, Pohl, and Bissantz: The Milky Way spiral arm pattern
Fig. 1. Map of neutral atomic hydrogen (21-cm
line) published by Oort (1959); figure taken from
the text book Scheffler & Elsässer (1992). The Sun
is in the upper part of the plot at 8 kpc.
cular rotation law for distance estimation, or
more direct methods for nearby objects.
More recently, Nakanishi & Sofue (2006)
used the 12 CO (J = 1 − 0) survey data of
Dame et al. (2001) to recover the 3D distribution of the molecular gas in the Milky Way.
Again, a circular rotation law was assumed,
and the area beyond the Galactic centre was excluded. The face-on view is compatible with a
4-armed spiral pattern.
In the outer disk, spiral arms have been
traced by analyzing the HI layer thickness
(Levine et al. 2006), again finding at least four
spiral arms.
2. Method
Pohl et al. (2008) used the velocity field from
the standard model of Bissantz et al. (2003) to
recover the gas distribution in the Milky Way
using a probabilistic method to match the observed CO gas distribution from Dame et al.
(2001) to the model prediction along the lineof-sight. The underlying kinematic model is
not a simple circular rotation law, but has
been calculated from a realistic mass model
including a triaxial model of the bulge/bar
which has been determined using the ob-
served COBE/DIRBE near-IR light distribution (Bissantz & Gerhard 2002). At radii larger
than 7 kpc we use a circular rotation law (after
a smooth transition).
When multiple distances are permitted by
the model for a given measured signal, the
signal is distributed over the allowed distance bins according to certain weights. These
weights have been chosen to avoid placing gas
at unrealistic large distances or above or below the warping and flaring plane. Our approach is based on the ideas of regularization methods which are used commonly e.g.,
for non-parametric reconstruction problems.
Comparison with a mock density model allows us to identify artifacts caused by the inversion. The resulting map for the gas distribution is shown in Fig. 2 (blue-green inner part)
together with the HI layer thickness (red-gray
outer part) from Levine et al. (2006). Major inversion artifacts in this map are: the circle between Sun and galactic centre, the linear structure behind the galactic centre along the lineof-sight, and the structure seen beyond the solar radius in the far side of the disk.
For further details of the method we refer
the reader to Pohl et al. (2008).
3. Interpretation
3.1. Two or four spiral arms?
When we trace by eye the spiral arms in Fig. 2
starting at the bar ends, the situation becomes
complicated when we reach ∼ 7 kpc in radius.
Spiral arms seem to end or branch and any picture drawn is highly subjective. However, we
can trace the arms with confidence at small
and large radii. On the other hand, we can
make a sensible connection between the spiral arms, since arms cannot cross, only branch.
When we interpret the spiral pattern this way,
we can draw the pattern shown in Fig. 3, a 2armed spiral pattern in the inner Galaxy, which
branches in two more arms at about the solar
radius. Similarly, there seems to be some indication of short branches starting off the minor axis of the bar when the spiral arms pass
near the Lagrangian points of the bar. Those
short branches might be due to the assumed
Englmaier, Pohl, and Bissantz: The Milky Way spiral arm pattern
Fig. 2. Map of 3D molecular gas distribution in the inner galaxy (inner part) from Pohl et al. (2008), and
thickness HI layer in the outer disk from Levine et al. (2006). The Sun is indicated by the yellow dot.
kinematic gas flow model. Unfortunately, the
3-kpc-arms are only hinted at in our map. This
is a consequence of the poor fit of the gas dynamics near the 3-kpc-arm, which causes the
gas from the near 3-kpc-arm to be broken into
two pieces. Nevertheless it can be identified in
the map and we also see a weak signal for the
counter arm.
Since the spiral arms here are matched to
structure seen in the deprojected gas distribution map, there is no reason to expect symmetry in the derived spiral pattern. However, surprisingly we find an almost perfect 180◦ rotational symmetry in the inner Galaxy. Since artifacts, real spurs, and gaps in the map are not
expected to be symmetrically distributed, we
conclude that the observed symmetry and the
2-armed spiral pattern must be real.
In the transition region, at 7–8 kpc galactic radius, we observe spiral arm branching
which seems to occur at two locations which
are not 180◦ apart in azimuth. When we overlay the spiral pattern with the pattern rotated
by 180◦ , we observe that the spiral arms from
both patterns alternately cross and interleave
each other. This seems to indicate that the outer
galaxy spiral pattern is a superposition of even
and odd spiral modes. The Galaxy nevertheless
appears rather symmetrically 4-armed, but this
might be an illusion. It remains to be seen, if
Englmaier, Pohl, and Bissantz: The Milky Way spiral arm pattern
Fig. 3. The inner Galaxy is dominated by the bar and a symmetric 2-armed spiral pattern plus the 3-kpcarms ending at ∼ 3 kpc. The outer galaxy is more irregular with about 4 spiral arms.
the situation for the Milky Way is similar to the
hidden 3-armed spiral mode found in many late
type spirals as observed by Elmegreen et al.
(1992). If true, three arms should be closer together, while one stronger arm, resulting from
two superimposed arms, should be more isolated.
3.2. The 3-kpc-arms
The 3-kpc-arm is a well known and studied
feature of the (l, v)-diagram. Its main characteristics are, that it passes in front of the galactic
centre with a large radial velocity of 53 km s−1
which indicates that it is driven by the bar into
non-circular motion. Alternatively, the 3-kpcarm’s peculiar non-circular motion and apparent lack of a counter-arm, led Fux (1999) to the
conclusion, that the arm is pushed around by a
m = 1 mode in the inner disk, caused by an
off-centre bar tumbling around the centre with
a low pattern speed of ∼ 20 − 30 km s−1 kpc−1 .
The counter arm is pushed to much larger noncircular velocities explaining the +135 km s−1
Aligned with the 3-kpc arm is a group
of OH/IR stars, which has lead to the interpretation of a material arm (Sevenster 1999)
in the context of the Fux (1999) model, but
Englmaier, Pohl, and Bissantz: The Milky Way spiral arm pattern
Fig. 4. The centre of the Galaxy. Left panel: Pohl et al. (2008). Right panel: Sawada et al. (2006). The Sun
is located on the right at 8 kpc. Horizontal features are indicative of distance errors. The stellar bar in our
model is oriented along the dashed line.
can also be understood in terms of the OH/IR
progenitors being formed near the Lagrange
points at corotation and perpendicular to the
bar (Englmaier 2000).
Very recently Dame & Thaddeus (2008)
have found that a possible complementary far
3-kpc-arm has been overlooked in the (l, v)diagram, which is surprisingly symmetric to
the near 3-kpc-arm. While Dame & Thaddeus
(2008) have so far only uncovered part of the
structure, it seems like a long searched for
piece of the galactic puzzle has fallen in place.
The vertical thickness of the new arm is about
half the value for the near arm, which places
it at the same distance from the galactic centre as the near arm. Moreover, the two arms,
if symmetric, allow estimation of the position
angle of the bar. By assuming that the arms are
bisymmetric and start on the major axis of the
bar, we can estimate that the bar’s position angle is in the range of 20◦ to 40◦ . The value depends critically on the longitude extent of the
far arm. Dame & Thaddeus (2008) find the arm
extends to l = −7◦ to −8◦ (corresponding to
25◦ − 20◦ for the bar angle), or l = −12◦ if two
isolated clouds which lie in the continuation of
the observed part of the far 3-kpc-arm also belong to it (Dame, priv. comm.). This, however,
is unlikely, because the far arm would then not
appear as a coherent structure, very unlike the
near arm.
3.3. Inner Galaxy
In the central kpc of the reconstructed map, we
observe a ring with radius ∼ 200 pc, which is
off-centre, with density peaks in front of and
behind the galactic centre, and gas along the
leading edges of the nuclear bar (see Fig. 4; the
dashed line indicates the position of the bar).
We can make a direct comparison with the results from Sawada et al. (2006), which used a
non-kinematic method to map the molecular
gas in the same region. Sawada et al. (2006)
found a slightly different distribution. Our reconstruction of the inner Galaxy is resolution limited, smoothing out the innermost few
100 pc. Both methods have distance errors,
causing ‘Finger-of-God’ structure pointing to
In Sawada et al. (2006), the clump named
Bania’s clump 2 (Bania 1977) is stretched
along the line-of-sight. A similar structure exists in our map, but stretched out over a smaller
distance [at (x, y) = (0.4, −0.4) kpc]. Another
clump on the far side, but somewhat closer
to the centre, is seen in our map [at (x, y) =
(−0.3, 0.1)], and might be the counter object
to Bania’s clump 2. Or, it might be misplaced
in distance and it should truly sit at (x, y) =
(0, 0.1).
3.4. Outer Galaxy
In the outer galaxy we can compare and continue our map with the map produced by
Englmaier, Pohl, and Bissantz: The Milky Way spiral arm pattern
Levine et al. (2006). They used the thickness
of the HI layer to trace spiral arms in the outer
galaxy out to more than 20 kpc in radius. The
maps overlap at r ∼ 8 kpc allowing us to compare and continue the spiral arms between the
two studies. We find both maps to agree very
well, all four arms can be continued into the
map provided by Levine et al. (2006).
4. Comparison with other studies
In the previous section, we already compared
to Sawada et al. (2006) in the inner galaxy
and Levine et al. (2006) in the outer galaxy.
Another study, which used the same data and
created a face-on map of the Milky Way was
recently done by Nakanishi & Sofue (2006).
We find excellent agreement in the outer part
of the model and can cross-identify features in
both studies.
The main difference seems to be the interpretation in terms of spiral arms.
5. Conclusions
The Milky Way has four symmetric spiral arms
in the inner part, two of which, the near and
far 3-kpc-arm, end inside corotation, two other
arms start at ∼ 4 kpc on the major axis of the
bar, continue through corotation, and branch at
∼ 7 kpc into four spiral arms which continue to
∼ 20 kpc.
The outer pattern very likely is a superposition of m = 2 and m = 3 spiral density waves,
as has been observed in external galaxies similar to the Milky Way.
The observed symmetries might be useful
in future attempts to invert the gas distribution.
One of the spiral arm branches occurs near to
us and might leave an imprint in the local stellar velocity distribution. Models of the gas dynamics should take the symmetry of the two
3-kpc-arms into account.
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